Did you know that famed suspense film director Alfred Hitchcock was brought up Catholic? You would not know it from watching his movies, though there is his lesser-known I Confess (1953). In it, Montgomery Clift plays Father Michael Logan, a priest who hears the Confession of a murderer, and his potential testimony is the only thing that (seemingly) could potentially put the criminal in jail. If you know the rules of the Confessional, I will not need to tell you how inviolable is the seal. Despite enormous pressure, Father Logan keeps his word and the accused is convicted through other means. However, I am not here to review I Confess. Instead, I will be looking at Hitchcock (2012), a modern film about the making of the title character’s more famous Psycho (1960).
We are treated to Alfred Hitchcock’s (Sir Anthony Hopkins) visage early on in Hitchcock, and the first thing that strikes you is how well done is the look. You could almost forget that it is not Hopkins but the famously portly director. He is describing the character of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the Wisconsin serial killer whose misdeeds inspired the novel on which the novel Psycho and subsequent cinematic thriller is based. Indeed, while in the throes of making the movie, Hitchcock seemingly conjures Gein in what seems to be a desire for understanding, not only of what he is doing in trying to tell a story but to make sense of his own life. The director sees in Psycho an opportunity to make a film that would push the boundaries of acceptable cinema. Paramount Studios and the Production Code Administration were his two main obstacles to getting his controversial movie made. At the same time, his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), is getting too close for comfort (in Hitchcok’s eyes) to the sycophantic Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) who it trying to get her to help him with his book. Hitchcock sees their dalliance as something less than innocent, but Alma feels justified because of her husband’s fixation on young blondes. Because of the studio’s hesitation, Hitchcock must also put his own money on the line to get the film complete. Thus both of their lavish Hollywood lifestyles are at stake. When the film’s first cut fails to impress, they must put aside their petty jealousies to save it and their home.
Hitchcock is good not just because Sir Anthony Hopkins is completely transformed into Alfred Hitchcock, though that is enough. On a personal level, I enjoyed seeing the glimpse of a bygone era in Hollywood and how movies were made at that time. It is also a reminder (yet again) of the issues I contended with in my doctoral dissertation. This era in film-making was dictated by the Production Codes I mentioned above, and they were originally written by a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, named Father Daniel Lord in 1928. He was a member of a Catholic movie watch-dog group known as the Legion of Decency (and the inspiration for the title of this blog). Another member of this group was Joseph Breen, who had connections in Hollywood and eventually became the first head of the Production Code Administration. Thus Catholics had an enormous say over film content from the 1930s on up until 1968 when the codes were replaced by the modern rating system. Throughout, Hitchcock treats these guidelines for cinema as a ridiculous nuisance, and I cannot say that I blame him. Among other things, they forbade miscegenation to be shown in a positive light. Finally, this little aside is meant to provide some subtext for your viewing of Hitchcock, should you choose to view it.
Hitchcock is rated PG-13, though I do not feel there is anything particularly objectionable in it. Again, it is enjoyable because of how it captures the era in which Hitchcock was making movies, as well as his unique directorial style. Young people would probably be bored, but it really is a fine piece of cinema for the performances if nothing else. I suppose it will never replace the work of the actual master, but it is fine tribute to his work.